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Parkour: French for “Wildly Dangerous”


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For health reasons, you have to workout. But how often have you been running on the treadmill or spinning on the stationary bike and thought to yourself: “This workout is excellent for cardio and stamina, but I would really like to do something where I could seriously injure myself. I mean, I waste so much time in the morning brushing all these teeth.”

If this thought occurs to you in Colorado, you have many options. You can mountain bike, rock climb or play running back for the Colorado Buffaloes.

But another excellent option is Parkour, a newly invented urban sport that is both exploding in popularity and is roughly as safe as the Rwandan Civil War.

Let me explain what Parkour is, for the benefit of those readers who live in remote, backwards, unlearned areas such as Greeley.

Parkour was developed in France as a way to move quickly and efficiently through a military obstacle course, which is called a parcours du combattant. Nowadays, Parkour athletes practice in cities, using similar skills to move quickly through an urban obstacle course, doing flips off walls, launching themselves cat-like from handrail to handrail or, terrifyingly, from ledge to ledge. At its best, it resembles Cirque du Soleil, and Parkour athletes defy gravity in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sort of way.

I decided I wanted to try Parkour. This idea occurred to me after watching a dozen YouTube videos and drinking a roughly equal number of Bud Lights. With no training, I attempted a backflip off a low wall. Do not worry; my neck should heal sometime in 2015.

After wiping the grass off my shirt and rubbing the sore spot on my head, I sought professional  help.

A gym called Apex Movement opened in Boulder in 2006 as the first formal Parkour program in the Americas. It is among the most prominent and successful Parkour gyms in the country, and is rapidly expanding.

Thank Jesus, the gym has padded floors.

YOU’VE GOT TO LEARN
TO WALK BEFORE YOU CAN RUN INTO A WALL 

At Apex, some of the best Parkour athletes in the country offer training in this burgeoning sport.  They stress that Parkour isn’t as dangerous as irresponsible journalists—specifically, me—would have you believe.

“The media has a pretty extreme view of Parkour,” said instructor Vinny Fiacco, 28. “We’re not trying to hurt ourselves.”

Well, sure. But there is a video, posted online by Apex Movement itself, called “Bails and Fails,” in which the guys and girls of Apex Movement are shown “trying not to hurt themselves” by, for example, doing front flips over moving cars.

But it is true: when the Apex folks teach us beginners, they start slowly and teach safety. I join a class of four; my instructor is Brandon Halpin, 21. I am taught, firstly, how to fall, by rolling my body over the ground, rather than pile-driving into it.

In our class, there are students from differing ability levels. A woman named Gretchen Hultman can walk on her hands all the way across the gym, which she repeatedly does for the specific purpose of making the rest of us feel bad about ourselves.

To get started, Brandon shows us a series of ways to jump over obstacles, doing what are called vaults: the side vault, the speed vault, the Kong vault, the lazy vault. I attempt these vaults aggressively, trying to impress and maybe surpass Gretchen. My movements have often been compared to the movements of an animal—unfortunately, that animal is a hippo. The lazy vault, I can’t get. My footwork is off. I stumble. I stagger into a wall. It is demoralizing to fail at something called the Lazy Vault.

But, when I do succeed at these vaults, even just a little, it is intoxicating. Best of all, it doesn’t feel like a workout. It feels like being back on the elementary school playground.

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